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Wiretap Expansion Plan

March 9, 2015 | Posted In Criminal Law - Criminal Law

New legislation will make it easier for police officers and other law enforcement officials to legally use wiretaps in ongoing criminal investigations. Last month, the Assembly Judiciary Committee recommended the passage of Bill A1046 in a unanimous decision. The bill plans to make several amendments to the existing wiretapping laws in the state to expand its use in more investigations and cases.

The New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act currently allows law enforcement to request permission for communication wiretaps in investigations involving murder, arson, robbery, burglary, theft, kidnapping, gambling, firearms trafficking, drug trafficking, racketeering, organized crime and hazardous waste disposal.

Under the proposed amendments of the new bill, state legislators hope to expand wiretap usage to investigations of luring or enticing a minor, third and fourth-degree harassment, stalking and identity theft. Sponsoring the bill are Assemblymen Gary Schaer, Gordon Johnson, and Benjie Wimberly, all of whom have expressed a need for more vigilance in criminal surveillance. The assemblymen said the bill was introduced after a request from the Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, although Hoffman’s office has not commented on the amendment yet.

Roving Surveillance

The Wiretapping Act has had its share of contention in the last few years. Many people have questioned its constitutionality, especially the provisions that allow police to obtain one warrant for a variety of tapping needs, or excuse them from reapplying to a judge throughout an investigation.

The “roving surveillance” provision is designed so that law enforcement officers can track criminals who are a little more technologically advanced. The provision allows police officers to tap into a criminal suspect’s conversations even if the suspect changes cell phones frequently under the same initial warrant, without having to get new warrants for each new cell phone. In November of 2014, Hector Feliciano challenged the constitutionality of this provision and the New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments.

Last March, in State v. Ates, the state Supreme Court rejected another constitutional challenge to the Act—this one aimed at the provision that legalizes law enforcement’s use of wiretapping to listen in on out-of-state residents. The Supreme Court ruled that as long as the listening post is in New Jersey, tapping into phone calls that occur out of state is legal for law enforcement officials. To rule otherwise, they said, would be impractical, given the prevalent use of cell phones in today’s society and the mobility they allow.

Criminal Liability

Newark solo attorney Joseph Rotella, president of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in New Jersey, has stated that the group will oppose the new legislation. The Act’s current permissions are sufficient for law enforcement officials, who have other resources available to apprehend criminals without infringing on private conversations and online activity, the ACDL-NJ says.

If you are under investigation for a criminal act, but have not yet been charged with anything, your rights may be in serious jeopardy of violation, New Jersey criminal attorneys say. Law enforcement officials will be monitoring your day-to-day activities in an attempt to uncover any suspicious behavior and could be overstepping their bounds. If you feel your rights have been violated in wiretapping or any other way, contact a criminal attorney at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA today.  

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